Grapevine: sparkling into summer

October 15, 2020 BY

Pet-nat, short for Petillant-Naturel wines seemed to have grown and settled into their niche over the last couple of years, and yet, with summer on our doorstep demand continues to grow and expand.

For all but a still small proportion of wine drinkers it is probably unfamiliar to you, so it’s a good time to get a quick run-down before their peak season hits.

Pet-Nats are a sparkling wine style made using the ancestral method, which pre-dates the traditional method made famous in Champagne by around 200 years, being first produced in the early 1500s. The sparkling wine style has re-emerged over the past three or four years on the back of the natural wine movement, given the relatively low intervention from winemakers in the process compared to other sparkling wine production methods.

The process is relatively quick and ‘easy’ as far as sparkling production goes; as the wine undergoes fermentation it is bottled before the fermentation is completed thus leaving residual sugar and yeast that have not done their work yet. the remaining yeast eats up the sugar converting it to alcohol and the by-product of this process, CO2, has nowhere to go and thus remaining in the bottle creating the bubbles that make it a sparkling wine. There is often no fining, no filtration or need to add sulphur.

The complexities of fermentation and having the lees (dead yeast) in the bottle without the protection of sulphur against undesirable microbial spoilage can make the wines somewhat unpredictable and variable. For many, this is part of the appeal and adds complexity to the wines, however it’s a fine line between funky complexity and faulty wine. In the early days of the emerging style in Australia there were plenty of wines that crossed this line and were praised at times, most likely for ideological reasons rather than for the merits of what was in the bottle as a beverage. In the past year or two though, there seems to be far more consistency and quality across the spectrum from the cleanest examples to those with more layers of funk and complexity.

McLaren Vale has always been a slightly surprising hub for naturally focused producers in Australia given it already has such a strong, established brand. Nevertheless, many small producers have found a home there working with the formerly undervalued Grenache as well as the slew of Mediterranean grape varieties which are starting to establish themselves as Alex Sherrah was at the helm of iconic McLaren Vale producer Coriole for some time before striking out on his own, making a range of wines that include regional classics alongside experimental blends and lo-fi styles.

His Pet-Nat ($32) is made entirely from Fiano grown across two sites in McLaren Vale, with 70 per cent seeing significant skin contact during fermentation and most likely was racked prior to bottling to clean it up a little. Being a 2020 vintage wine it will no doubt continue to settle into itself over the next month or two, it starts out vibrant and fruit-driven with stone fruits, apple, lemon and floral notes. The palate is crisp and lively with a subtle grip and texture from the skins followed by some yeasty notes adding another layer of flavour and texture to the finish.

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